A Good Friday for America and the World

Irrespective of how someone might feel about same-sex marriage, last Friday’s US Supreme Court decision will be looked upon as watershed moment in American history. Further, it has already launched celebrations around the globe as the decision to allow same-sex marriages here is a beacon for the rest of the world. It was indeed a good Friday for America and the world.

Our friend Barney wrote earlier this year a post that offers some valuable historical context. He notes that our US Constitution afforded more rights to white male property owners at the expense of others. I would offer that should any of those white males have been gay men, they would have kept it extremely quiet, so as not to run afoul or the mores of the day. Women did not have the right to vote, nor did other white men. And, slaves were denied all rights and counted as 3/5 a person to provide southern states with more power in Congress.

But, what is most interesting to me, is the history of our country is a series of events that give others those same rights. The most notable changes are the freedoms afforded former slaves at the end of the Civil War, which was a hard fought battle in a predominantly northern Congress, and giving women the right to vote in the early 1920s. I like to remind people that women have had the right to vote in our country for less than 100 years, which is a shame that it took so long.

Yet, other key changes occurred by legislation and court cases. The Civil Rights and Voters Rights Acts are two key pieces of legislation which afforded Blacks the same rights they should have had in practice for 100 years, but were denied by Jim Crow laws. These laws were also ten years after the Brown v. Board of Education US Supreme court decision which said separate was not equal in education. Another key court case which is similar in nature to last Friday’s decision is Loving v. VA where an interracial couple won a court case which opened up marriage between people of different races. Like the recent decision, the Loving decision ran up against people with biblical references of how bad it would be to mix the races.

In America, people have the right to believe the way they want. That freedom is important. Yet, one thing that is of equal importance, is no one has the freedom to restrict the rights of other people. That is a key part of the Civil Rights Act. So, to say it simply, your freedoms are of equal importance to my freedoms, but not more. I cannot discriminate unfairly against you, nor should you be allowed to do the same to me. And, this goes for government officials as well. To do otherwise, is a slippery slope.

So, we should celebrate the historical ruling of last Friday. As a 56 year-old, heterosexual married father, who is an Independent voter, I am delighted that Americans have the freedom to marry someone of the same-sex. One of the best pictures I saw this weekend, is one of a Lesbian couple who had words painted on their fists, when held up in unison, said “Love Wins.” Yes, it most certainly did. And, so did America.

Huge distinction – discriminated against vs. freedom to discriminate

There has been a concerted effort with Religious Freedom Acts to allow people to discriminate because of “sincerely held religious beliefs.” Today, I saw a reference to the Supreme Court Ruling against Abercrombie and Fitch because the company denied employment to a woman who wore Hijab, (a head covering) per her religious beliefs. The reference tries to equate the two issues – if this person can get a ruling for her religion, the government is discriminating against another religion by requiring its members to serve someone who is doing something against the member’s beliefs.

This effort to allow discrimination has gone one step further in some states like North Carolina, which have passed bills to allow magistrates to opt out of marrying same-sex couples, if they had sincerely held religious beliefs against such marriages. In North Carolina, this law was vetoed by the Governor, but the Senate has overturned his veto and the House is considering it. Other states are further down the path on this issue and have passed laws to permit such unfair discrimination.

People who are making this argument are missing a very important point. Per the Supreme Court ruling which upheld our constitutional rights, no one should be discriminated against for their religious beliefs. Yet, it is not OK to discriminate against someone to honor your freedom of religion or any belief for that matter. When your freedom infringes in a discriminatory way on another person’s rights and freedoms, then that is not just. Giving you the freedom to unfairly discriminate is not in keeping with the constitution. This is a key basis for why the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, as African-Americans were getting unfairly discriminated against by white business owners and government officials.

This last part is key as the efforts to tell magistrates they can choose to not uphold a law is unconstitutional. A simple exercise can demonstrate this. During the height of the Jim Crow era, there were some ministers who used the bible to placate their parishioners, saying it was OK to treat African-Americans differently. These parishioners also had sincerely held religious beliefs, as their minister said it was OK. Even after the 1964 Civil Rights Act which gave equal rights to African-Americans, white officials in some southern cities imposed a rigorous test on African-Americans to earn the right to vote, a test whites did not have to take. This selective testing was deemed unconstitutional by the Voting Right Act, which was passed a year later.

Every state that is considering passing a bill or law like the North Carolina one or has already done so, needs to accrue about $1 million for legal fees. Why? Any law which memorializes unfair discrimination will be taken to court and it will be overturned as unconstitutional. So, that is my strong advice to our legislators and similarly minded folks in other states  – don’t waste taxpayer money fighting an unjust bill – just don’t pass it.

Our forefathers got it right when they separated church and state. Our forefathers and their parents left countries where religious persecution occurred. And, for some that do not believe this assertion feeling our nation was ordained by God, they may find of interest that several of our forefathers were Deists in faith. The main thesis of a Deist is God created the world, wound up the clock and let us live out our lives. That belief is inconsistent with God ordaining our nation. I would love to hear your thoughts.